Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easily type accented characters in Win7.

For some reason, a high proportion of recent journal article I’ve added to my Mendeley reference library have been by authors who spell their names with umlauts and other accents.

In order to type these characters on my British English keyboard, I either would have to look up the Unicode keystrokes or bring up the clumsy Windows Character Map - I tend to do the latter.

But did you know that there is a feature in Windows from XP on up that allows you to easily type accented characters?

Simply head over to the “Keyboards and Languages” tab in the “Region and Language” settings in the Control Panel, and click on the “Change Keyboard button” to add a new keyboard.

What you want to add is the “United Kingdom extended” keyboard, which I’ve made my default keyboard layout.

If you have multiple keyboards and languages installed, make sure you switch to the program you want to type in and select the correct settings in the Language Bar before trying to type.

Now, to type the “ü” like in the name “Müller,” all you have to press is [Alt Gr]+[2] followed by [u]. The “ above the [2] key is a handy visual cue for the umlaut.

Finally, something useful to do with that [Alt Gr] key!

This works for other accents as well:

à [`] then [a]
â [Alt Gr]+[6] then [a]
á [Alt Gr]+[‘] then [a]
ã [Alt Gr]+[#] then [a]
ä [Alt Gr]+[2] then [a]
Also, [Alt Gr]+[c] produces ç and [Alt Gr]+[4] produces €, handy when moving through the Eurozone.

This trick unfortunately does turn all the accent modifier combinations into “dead keys,” which means that nothing appears on the screen when you type the modifier keystrokes until you follow up with the letter to be accented.

So if you accidentally press a modifier combination and nothing happens, you just have to follow up with a second keypress.

It does takes a little bit of getting used to, especially the [`] modifier as it doesn’t require a simultaneous [Alt Gr] keystroke to trigger it. However the time saved not having to hunt and peck on the Character Map makes it all well worthwhile.

So go ahead, impress your European friends with emails containing properly accented characters. And who knows, it may even lead to Parisian love.

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